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The changing of Eskimo homes from warm snow and animal skin huts to frame houses heated with coal means the Eskimo mustwork in the coal mine to get coal and money for flour, and can no longer hunt for seals, a far healthier choice.

May 20, 1911


My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 18

Pre-civilization races

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Seeing the white men at Point Barrow living in frame houses would of itself have been sufficient to induce the Eskimo to do likewise, for the white men are well- to -do and powerful, and therefore become leaders of fashion in the matter of houses as in other things. The Eskimo have not had the means to build houses as well constructed as those of the white men, and even had they had the houses they would not have had the resources to keep them supplied with fuel, for coal is naturally expensive. 

But the pernicious practice of building frame houses has had more than the passive encouragement of the resident whites. Active steps have been taken by various well-meaning persons to try to get the Eskimo to quit what the white men consider their “native hovels” in favor of the frame house. It is the natural tendency of the thought less white to assume that his ways are the best ways. Even the Department of Education has not been guiltless, for officers in Washington have issued, presumably on the basis of their experience of the climate of Virginia and Maryland, instructions to the school teachers in Alaska to encourage the Eskimo in general to adopt white men's ways. My friend Mr. J. E. Sinclair, who for a year taught the government school on Wainwright Inlet, told me that he had specific instructions to encourage the Eskimo to dig coal in the coal mine there with the double idea that they might use the coal for heating their houses, and that they might earn money with which to buy flour to eat instead of the seal meat and walrus which was their ordinary diet. It is hard for me personally to get the point of view of a man who thinks that coal mining is a more desirable occupation than seal hunting. It would be a safe bet that he himself has never either hunted seal or dug coal . But during the last few years there has fortunately come a change, largely, I believe, through the influence of Mr. Lopp and Mr. Evans, the present superintendent and assistant superintendent of the government schools of northern Alaska, who are men of considerable experience in the country, and who have come to see clearly that the white-man style of frame house is one of the most serious evils which they have to fight. Mr. Evans told me, the autumn of 1912, that he was doing everything he could to get the Eskimo to refrain from building frame houses and to induce them to go back to the building of houses of the old type. Any one who has the welfare of the Eskimo at heart will wish Mr. Evans success in his enterprise ; but any one who understands the Eskimo will fear that success will come with difficulty, if at all. For the frame house has unfortunately become fashionable. It is not easy to get our own people to refrain from certain habits — of dress, for instance on the ground that they are unhealthful. Neither will it be easy to get the Eskimo to avoid the frame house on the ground that it is dangerous to life . My experience of the Eskimo is that they are even more inclined than the white race to eat, wear, and use things on the ground that they are expensive and fashionable rather than on the ground that they are excellent in themselves.